Right to property is not a fundamental right : Supreme Court

It has been observed over time and given the decisions of this court that the right to property has been severely undermined due to its character being that of a legal right and not a fundamental right. The evolving jurisprudence of this court also underlines that it is a valuable right ensuring guaranteed freedoms and economic liberty.This remarkable judgement was passed by the bench of the Supreme Court, consisting of Justice S Ravindra Bhat and Justice Indira Banerjee in the matter of B. K. Ravichandra & Ors. V Union Of India & Ors., [CIVIL APPEAL NO. 1460/2010].

A land owner was evicted from his land by the government for the governmental use of the property under the Requisitioning and Acquisition of Immovable properties Act, 1952.

The owner appealed to the High Court praying for the government to vacate the land. Although the court did not grant this relief, it however granted relief in terms of prosecuting the government for adequate compensation.

As mandated by Section 8 (2) of the Requisitioning Act, this dispute was referred to an arbitrator. Several issues were raised by the owner such as, amount of compensation payable, the recurring payments in respect of the periods of requisition and the sums equal to the rent that would have been payable for the occupation and use of the property and other sums towards 4 years of losses, i.e. pecuniary loss expense on account of the vacating of the requisitioned premises, expenses on account of re- occupying of premises after release from acquisition and damages other than normal repairs. The appeal was made to the Supreme Court.

Firstly, in disagreement to the findings and order of the High Court in refusing to grant relief to the owners, the Apex Court opined, “the Union asserted that it had acquired at least some parts of the suit lands; these were examined by the High Court on two occasions, and in arbitration proceedings under the Requisitioning Act, on three occasions. Each time, the factual findings went against the Union. The Union’s occupation ceased to be lawful, with the lapse of the Requisitioning Act, in 1987. Yet, it has implacably refused to hand back possession, each time asserting that it has some manner of rights over it. The High Court, while noticing that the Union’s claim had no merits (in both its appeal, which was dismissed, as well as in the impugned judgment, disposing of the writ petition), nevertheless refused to issue any direction for the release of the suit lands”.

In addition, the court also held, “The respondent Union is directed to hand back possession of the suit lands to the appellants, within three months. Furthermore, it is open to the appellants to seek compensation based on fresh fixation of capital value and recurring annual value, based on the different five- year periods for the last 20 years. Such a claim shall be referred to arbitration, within four weeks of receipt of the reference. The arbitrator shall proceed to pronounce the award within six months of receipt of the reference. This is independent of the Union’s obligation to vacate and hand over peaceful possession of the suit lands within three months. phrasing of Article 300-A is determinative and its resemblance with Articles 21 and 265 cannot be overlooked- they in effect, are a guarantee of the supremacy of the rule of law, no less.”.

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